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The Long Way Round to Machu Picchu: Santa Teresa

Ollantaytambo Plaza, PeruOver the next two weeks, I explore Ollantaytambo, mainly the coffee shops and tackle the rugged Pinkuylluna walk I chickened out of crossing the narrow, cliff path to the triple gabled granary to the south and instead explored the one on the northern promontory.

Pinkuylluna GranariesThe views are stunning, even as the dark clouds bring flecks of rain over the southern peaks and threaten a storm.

Saturday, 5th of May, Sitting at the Coffee Tree Cafe a few days later, I think about motorcycling to Machu Picchu but glance up at the Ruins on the walk. It bothers me that I didn’t cross to the triple gabled granary. This is unfinished business. I had the time, finished my coffee and set off once again to climb the Pinkuylluna walk. Tomorrow was Sunday and I decided I would be off to Santa Maria on the bike so this would be my last opportunity.

Pinkuylluna viewsOnce I had arrived at the point that my jellied knees convinced me to quit before, it didn’t seem quite as bad as I remembered. Looking straight ahead and filming with the phone, I strode ahead. At the ruin, I met Andrew from York, an ex-soldier enjoying a day off by climbing over rocky crags. He said he was going up to the ruin overlooking where we were, was I coming. How could I refuse? It was a challenge for completion.

At the ruin, there was red tape strewn over the rocks behind. A path seemed to continue and the tape was easy enough to step over, so we explored further, discovering a cave tucked under the crags at the termination of the path. Somebody had built a fire pit and probably stayed the night there but no one else was here now.

Andrew left to explore another path but I spent 20 minutes admiring the view, relaxing and shrugging off early symptoms of a migraine, probably caused by coffee and exertion at high altitude.

Sunday, 6th of May, the sunrise warmed me out of bed and I prepped the bike but decided, “Nah, I’ll go tomorrow.” It’s been like this for the last 5 days but previous factors were poor weather forecasts that failed to deliver the storms they promised.

Monday, 7th of May, I packed up the Tent leaving a yellow rectangle in the green lawn – a sign of being here too long. Strapped the bags to the bike, and walked into Ollantaytambo Plaza for lunch, there was no rush.

Ollantaytambo Plaza looking toward PinkuyllunaI found a place full of locals the food, good and cheap, before heading back to the campsite. The bike was all set so I said farewell to the proprietors, Ed and Laura, and rattled along the giant cobbles out on to the highway. Maps.me indicated a Fuel station not far to the west but I couldn’t find it and did a U-turn at the hotel at Phiry. There was no way I could make Santa Maria with the fuel I had in my tank. I pulled into the plaza in Ollantaytambo intending to interrogate the tourist office. A guy approached with intention of getting me to move my bike which saved me getting off the bike. Either 20 minutes east or 5 minutes west. As it turned out, the fuel station was about half a kilometre further from the point I turned around.

Abra Malaga Mountain PasThe road was smooth and swept through the Andean valleys in and out of the shade of the afternoon sun. The gentle incline was peppered with hairpin turns as I climbed further towards Abra Malaga. I didn’t know it at the time but the road is quite well Biking Abra Malagaknown. You can read more about it here at Dangerous Roads.
Eventually, I reached cloud height and everything became cold and damp. I lifted my visor in order to see the edges of the road in the gloom only for my glasses to mist up. Looking over my glasses with natural but slightly blurred vision was the best I could see for the last ten minutes. The road became rough and pockmarked and I was riding over and around harsh potholes.

My water bottle bounced out of its restraining bands which gave me an excuse to stop. I was cold and damp, yet now over the peak of Abra Malaga and descending slowly out of the cloud.

Below the clouds, I began to dry out and see through my glasses. Sunny spells returned to the day. I found myself tailing the fuel truck I had passed earlier. I had no desire to overtake it now, I was admiring the scenery, I felt like a pilot descending, looping around the hairpins. Dusk was falling by the time I reached Santa Maria, It was a long haul to get here, in endurance rather than distance.

I found a hostel around the back streets and booked into what turned out to be a private room. Access was back out of reception onto the street and a walk around the block. I settled in and returned to reception to the intermittent WiFi. It seemed pretty quiet until a bus-load of white-water rafters invaded the reception for the WiFi. I was famished, Maurice, the proprietor, escorted me to a fine restaurant that served dinner for 10 Soles (£2.50).
I found out they did breakfast at “7 or 8 or whenever you want” were his words.

Cockerel headMy room had a small glassless window. Fine because it wasn’t cold or raining but useless for shielding the sound of the cockerel next door that started crowing at 3.15 and every hour after.

Tuesday, 8th of May: I laid in bed sleepless until about 8.30 and packed the single bag I’d taken off the bike and tottered around to reception. Closed. I tottered further up to the restaurant that served breakfast from ‘7 or 8 or whenever you want.’ It looked closed, at first glance, but a door was open enough to see all the chairs standing on the tables. “Abierto?” I called inside to someone I spotted out back in the kitchen. He went to ask the proprietor who I guess recognised me and beckoned me in: the only customer in the cafe, chairs being deployed around the table of my choice.

It was gone ten by the time I recovered the bike from the garage of the hostel and headed out to Santa Teresa. It was a good job I had passed the junction, last night, when curiosity foolishly tempted me to tackle the cliff road in the dark. This morning, a food vendor had set up in front of the road sign to Santa Teresa, obscuring it with a beach brolly.

I was on my way, over the bridge and through the ghost town I explored yesterday’s twilight before finding the hostel. The high, shear ‘death road,’ someone called it on a forum, had been a worry but I was now distracted in keeping the bike straight on the rough marble like rocks and learning how to set up the Go Pro to record the experience.

Inka Tours, Santa TeresaThe campsite I noticed on maps.me is called Inka Tours and while it seemed a quiet corner of paradise, it later became a constant barrage of minibuses of hikers: hence the name, I guess. Hikers resting during their exclusive Inca Trail excursions over the Andes and through the Sacred Valley. S/10 a night felt a bargain. “Can you tell me the Wifi password?” “Si, five Soles…” “Is there anywhere to charge my laptop?” “Si, One Soles…” Took the shine off the place.

Machu Picchu Basecamp, Inka Tours Campsite, Santa TeresaThe weather is warmer here, what with being half the altitude of Ollantaytambo. Sandflies made their presence felt only after getting their fill of blood and escaping to bother others. Shorts and flip-flops were a poor choice for sitting at the bar watching my GoPro videos crawl up the narrowband internet pipe to Youtube

Once the tent was set, I spent the rest of the day wrestling with video editing. A new field for me, especially with Kdenlive on Linux that likes to crash the PC at random intervals. Patience seems to help: do nothing else while encoding.

As night fell and the last of the youtube videos were uploaded. Bus after bus of caucasian 20 somethings rolled in whooping, cheering and clapping. Shots of Inka Tequila piled high on the bar.

Something told me I’d rolled into the wrong paradise…

Read more about how to motorcycle to Machu Picchu here.

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